Correspondence Regarding Army of the Potomac Concerns President Lincoln

May 14, 1863

President Lincoln responds to a letter the previous day from General Joseph Hooker:

“My movements have been a little delayed by the withdrawal of many of the two-years’ and nine-months’ regiments, and those whose time is not already up it will be expedient to leave on this side of the river. This reduction imposes upon me the necessity of partial reorganization. My marching force of infantry is cut down to about 80,000, while I have artillery for an army of more than double that number. It has always been out of proportion, considering the character of the country we have to campaign in, and I shall be more efficient by leaving at least one-half of it in depot. In addition, Stoneman’s cavalry returned to camp day before yesterday, and will require a day or two more to be in readiness to resume operations.

I know that you are impatient, and I know that I am, but my impatience must not be indulged at the expense of dearest interests.

I am informed that the bulk of Longstreet’s force is in Richmond. With the facilities at hand, he can readily transfer it to Lee’s army, and no doubt will do so if Lee should fight and fall back, as he will try to do.

The enemy’s camps are reported to me as being more numerous than before our last movement, but of this I have no positive information. They probably have about the same number of troops as before the last battle, but with these and Longstreet’s they are much my superior, besides having the advantage of acting on the defensive, which, in this country, can scarcely be estimated.

President Lincoln writes General Hooker regarding military strategy in northern Virginia: “When I wrote you on the 7th. I had an impression that possibly, by an early movement, you could get some advantage from the supposed facts that the enemies communications were disturbed and that he was somewhat deranged in position. That idea has now passed away, the enemy having re-established his communications, regained his positions and actually received re-inforcements. It does not now appear probable to me that you can gain any thing by an early renewal of the attempt to cross the Rappahannock. I therefore shall not complain, if you do no more, for a time, than to keep the enemy at bay, and out of other mischief, by menaces and occasional cavalry raids, if practicable; and to put your own army in good condition again. Still, if in your own clear judgment, you can renew the attack successfully, I do not mean to restrain you. Bearing upon this last point, I must tell you I have some painful intimations that some of your corps and Division Commanders are not giving you their entire confidence. This would be ruinous, if true; and you should therefore, first of all, ascertain the real facts beyond all possibility of doubt.”

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “I wrote, two or three weeks since, a letter to Admiral Du Pont of affairs at Charleston and his reports, but have delayed sending it, partly in hopes I should have something suggestive and encouraging, partly because Fox requested me to wait, in the belief we should have additional information. Du Pont is morbidly sensitive, and to vindicate himself wants to publish every defect and weakness of the ironclads and to disparage them, regardless of its effect in inspiring the Rebels to resist them, and impairing the confidence of our own men in their invulnerability. I have tried to be kind and frank in my letter, but shall very likely give offense.

Had a little conversation to-day with Chase and Bates on two or three matters, but the principal subject was Earl Russell’s speech.

President Lincoln writes William C. Bryant, editor of the New York Post regarding the future of a key German-American general: “Yours requesting that Gen. [Franz] Sigel may be again assigned to command, is received. Allow me to briefly explain. I kept Gen. Sigel in command for several months, he requesting to resign, or to be relieved. At length, at his urgent & repeated solicitation, he was relieved. Now it is inconvenient to assign him a command without relieving or dismissing some other officer, who is not asking, and perhaps would object, to being so disposed of. This is one of a class of cases; and you perceive how embarrassing they are.”

In the evening, General Joseph Hooker, commander of the Army of the Potomac, visits the president at the White House.

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